For a defense that has struggled to contain quarterbacks in back-to-back weeks, the dual-threat ability of Justin Fields provides yet another difficult matchup for the Cleveland Browns.
The news came down on Wednesday that the Chicago Bears would officially hand the keys over to first round and former Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields. The Browns are now tasked with gameplanning for the former Heisman finalist instead of the far less daunting and journeyman quarterback Andy Dalton.
What are the Browns now tasked with as the Bears make the change under-center? The best place to start is with the 12th overall pick himself in Fields.
Coming out of Ohio State this past April, the biggest draw to Fields' game is his level of accuracy. Looking back to the college season a year ago and the quarterback's it produced in the deep class that it was, Fields the most accurate gunslinger in the class.
Using my charting metric, Fields finished with a Weighted-On Target Percentage of over 83 percent. This is still the highest number I have seen as I continue to chart both college and NFL quarterbacks.
Most importantly, Fields is lethally accurate at the deeper levels of the field. Both down the field and towards the boundary at the intermediate level of the field, Fields was on target on over 80 percent of those throws.
While the box score against the Cincinnati Bengals shows that Fields completed only 6-of-13 passes, his chart was a bit more promising.
Looking over the tape, there were two crucial drops on highly impressive throws down the field for the Chicago quarterback. The first came on a 22 yard dart along the left boundary to Darnell Mooney, the second came on a 36-yard deep ball to Allen Robinson that would have resulted in his first career passing touchdown.
Including those throws would have brought Fields' completion percentage up to over 61 percent. There was a third throw on the left side of the end zone that was leveraged toward the boundary (as it should have been), that Mooney could not quite secure. This would have boosted the percentage to 69.
Again, more importantly, Fields was on-target on his only deep ball of the afternoon this past Sunday, and hit the mark on four-of-six passes outside the numbers at the intermediate level. Fields not only loves to toss the ball down the field, but he thrives at it.
While Fields' average time to throw ranked near the top of the league in the preseason, this is not a change from his college days. At Ohio State Fields continued to rank near the top in time to throw.
There could be a couple of reasons for this. There certainly is an element of heroism to Fields' game, waiting for something to develop down the field. However, most of that elevated time to throw comes from his both his ability to extend plays, as well as the schemes he has played in.
While Ohio State is pegged as an easy, quarterback-friendly offense, that could not be further from the truth. In fact, the concepts the Buckeyes ran with Fields were littered with NFL-caliber concepts, most of which came in the form of vertical, longer developing shots. The Bears flipped this downfield switch when Fields replaced Dalton as well.
As previously mentioned, Fields has a tremendous ability to extend plays with his legs. It is rare to find a quarterback who can both run a 4.4 forty-yard dash and show the arm talent and accuracy to hit every level of the field.
If not contained and collapsed into the pocket, Fields has the ability to not only sneak out and extend plays, but break pursuit angles towards the boundary and beat defenders to the edge. He's got quite a bit of power to break out of wimpy tackles as a ball carrier on top of that.
This also forces the Browns to plan for a heavy dose of read-options as well. The Bears are going to make Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney their key read, and force the second-level defenders to make plays in space. This is probably a good week to get Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah on the field in base alignments as well.
Contrary to his pre-draft narrative as well, Fields has tremendous ability to identify defenses pre-snap and decide where the football should be heading. His best throw on the day against the Bengals came on a deep crosser where he is reading out a safety in a two-high look.
In this crosser concept, Fields has a front-side receiver running what is called a cop route. This is his primary read. He has two receivers backside: the slot running a post, and the third receiver running a stem route to hold the second safety.
As he takes the snap, Fields is reading the frontside safety to see if he tracks with the cop route that the X receiver is running. If the safety takes the cop route, that will leave the backside post from the slot with a load of green grass along the boundary. If the frontside safety sits in the zone and takes away the slot post, then Fields has a one-on-one shot to his X on the cop route (broken down here).
In the play above, the frontside safety does indeed carry the cop route from the X, leaving the boundary clear for the backside post. Fields sees this in an efficient manner and throws with anticipation, hitting Mooney along the boundary.
Where Fields can get caught up, however, is sticking to his pre-snap reads. This is where the Bengals came away with an easy interception on Sunday.
The Bengals show a pre-snap look of bringing seven on a blitz. This is an alert to Fields to take his hot read, which in this play is a backside drag. Fields reads this and has his eyes in the right spot.
However, what Fields does not account for is the MIKE linebacker Logan Wilson falling off of his pre-snap look and dropping into the hook zone. Fields throws the ball where he thinks he is replacing the pressure, resulting an easy interception for Wilson.
This is how the Browns are going to beat Fields on Sunday. Defensive Coordinator Joe Woods is going to have to break out of the basics he has been running the past two weeks and disguise his looks pre-snap. Get Fields seeing one thing pre-snap, and force his eyes to adjust after the ball is in play.
This includes dropping off pressure as the Bengals did this past week, but also bringing disguised pressure as well. Give him some coverage disguise as well by either rolling a safety back over the top after playing him in the box pre-snap, and by bringing them downhill after flashing a two-high look.
Given his touched on tools, the Browns are going to have to bring pressure on the rookie quarterback. Another element defensively Woods has not been willing to show through two weeks of the young season. Trust the back end, which was invested in tremendously this offseason, to do their jobs and bring the house down.
Defending Fields will be far more similar to a gameplan used for the likes of Deshaun Watson rather than Lamar Jackson. Against Jackson, teams can more than likely get away with running a higher percentage of single-high looks and bringing another safety into the box.
However, given Fields' willingness to attack down the field and his high level of accuracy, a high number of snaps with only one safety deep will be exploited. With a quarterback who is aggressive and efficient deep down the field, prevalently leaving more green grass deep is not the best plan of attack either.
Sure, Fields is a rookie making his first career start, but the defensive gameplan for Woods and the Browns' defense is much more difficult. If the Browns line up in shell coverage without disguising their looks, they will once again get picked apart.
Get pressure, disguise pressure and back end coverage, and do a much better job of collapsing the interior of the pocket. This is the best plan of attack to beat the rookie, but it is up to the Defensive Coordinator to get out of his comfort zone and deploy less basic looks.